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11 Brilliant Gifts for the Reader in Your Life

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Buying new books for a bibliophile is always a challenge. Instead of running the risk of purchasing a title they've already read, give your favorite reader one of these creative, literary-themed gifts as a holiday present.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. LEATHER BOOK BAGS; $105 AND UP

Etsy user Krukrustudio’s totes give new meaning to the phrase “book bag.” Each rectangular satchel is designed to look like a classic tome—right down to the author’s byline and the illustrated cover art. The outside is crafted from either faux or real leather, and the inside is fully lined, with an inner pocket and a magnetic snap closure. And since each bag is produced by hand, you can custom-order them in a variety of sizes, colors, and styles.

Find It: Etsy

2. BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB, 3-MONTH MEMBERSHIP; $45

Too busy to visit the library or join a book club? The Book of the Month Club has you covered. The subscription-based e-commerce book club is presided over by a team of judges, who choose five new books for members to read each month. Your favorite book enthusiast can select which work they want shipped, or let the club choose a title. Once they’ve received the book in the mail, they can read it and discuss it with other members on the Book of the Month Club’s website. All plans include one hardcover book and free shipping, but particularly voracious readers can add extra books for $10 each.

Find It: Book of the Month Club

3. FIRE ESCAPE SHELF; $99

A mounted bookshelf helps literary urbanites make the most of a small apartment. This fire escape-inspired storage rack saves precious floor space, and looks stylish to boot. It’s fashioned from sturdy, epoxy-covered iron, and can hold up to 15 pounds.

Find It: Uncommon Goods

4. "LIBRARY STAMP" V-NECK T-SHIRT; $30

So many public libraries have adopted computerized checkout systems that the once-ubiquitous date due ink stamp has all but vanished. Pay homage to the bygone practice by donning Out of Print’s graphic T-shirt. Each one features a library stamp-inspired design on its front, and for every shirt purchased, Out of Print will donate one book to a community in need. 

Find It: Amazon

5. 100 ESSENTIAL NOVELS SCRATCH-OFF CHART; $35

Help a loved one show off how well read they are. The data visualization pros over at PopChartLab designed a scratch-off poster that lets your giftee keep track of which classic novels they’ve completed. It features 100 novels, published from 1605 to present. After they’ve finished a book, they only need to scrape the gold foil off its miniature cover to reveal a hidden illustration underneath.

Find It: PopChartLab

6.THE MYSTERY WRITERS OF AMERICA COOKBOOK: WICKEDLY GOOD MEALS AND DESSERTS TO DIE FOR; $17

Food and drink often play an important role in murder mysteries. Sometimes it’s poisoned; other times, it serves as a metaphor or a plot device. To celebrate this delicious (and deadly) relationship, The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook (2015) compiles more than 100 beverage and meal recipes provided by famous mystery authors including Mary Higgins Clark, Gillian Flynn, and James Patterson. Kate White, former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine and author of the Bailey Weggins mystery series, serves as the cookbook’s editor.

Find It: Amazon

7. TEXTURE; $30 FOR THREE MONTHS

Texture is an app that provides readers with unlimited digital access to all the magazines they love. It lets them peruse current and back issues of titles produced by Condé Nast, Hearst, Meredith, News Corp., Rogers Communications, and Time Inc. Texture is available for download on iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch, and on Android devices and Amazon Fire tablets.

Find It: Texture

8. HOLMES AND WATSON SET; $125

This set of six, pocket-sized Sherlock Holmes works is designed to be read and admired on a shelf. Each hardcover, cloth-bound book comes in a custom jacket; when grouped together, they form an illustrated picture of Holmes and his trusty sidekick, Watson. The collection includes titles like The Hound of the Baskervilles (1893),The Valley of Fear (1914), A Study in Scarlet (1887), and more. You can also order the works with book jackets designed to look like a silhouette of Holmes.

Find It: Juniper Books

9. KINDLE OASIS; $290

The latest—and most high-tech—iteration of Amazon’s Kindle E-reader is the Kindle Oasis. It’s thinner and lighter than its predecessors, and a new, improved handgrip design makes it easier to hold. It also comes with a leather charging cover to boost battery life.

Find It: Amazon

10. NOVEL TEAS; $13

Few things are cozier than curling up on a couch with a good book and a warm drink. These boxes of caffeinated English breakfast teas include 25 tea bags, and each one features a different quote from a famous author on its tag. (Example: “Where is human nature so weak as in a bookstore?” –Henry Ward Beecher)

Find It: Uncommon Goods

11. BOOK LAMP; $200 

The Lumio Book Lamp is proof that you should never judge a book by its cover. From the outside, it looks like a hardcover tome, bound in laser-cut wood. But when you open it, an accordion-shaped LED light springs out. The Lumio’s pleated folds are made from a synthetic, water-resistant material, and they expand up to 180 degrees for maximum brightness. And just like a real book, the Lumio is portable: A rechargeable battery provides it with wireless power for up to eight hours, and it can be mounted with magnetic pegs or hung lantern-style from a leather strap.

Find It: MoMA Design Store

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The Little Known Airport Bookstore Program That Can Get You Half of What You Spend on Books Back
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Inflight entertainment is a necessary evil, but the price can quickly add up without the proper planning. Between Wi-Fi access and TV/movie packages, you can run into all kinds of annoying additional charges that will only increase the longer your flight is. Thankfully, there is one way to minimize the cost of your inflight entertainment that’s a dream for any reader.

Paradies Lagardère, which runs more than 850 stores in 98 airports across the U.S. and Canada, has an attractive Read and Return program for all the books they sell. All you have to do is purchase a title, read it, and return it to a Paradies Lagardère-owned shop within six months and you'll get half your money back. This turns a $28 hardcover into a $14 one. Books in good condition are re-sold for half the price by the company, while books with more wear and tear are donated to charity.

If you haven’t heard of Paradies Lagardère, don’t worry—you’ve probably been in one of their stores. They’re the company behind a range of retail spots in airports, including licensed ventures like The New York Times Bookstore and CNBC News, and more local shops exclusive to the city you're flying out of. They also run restaurants, travel essentials stores, and specialty shops. 

Not every Paradies Lagardère store sells books, though, and the company doesn’t operate out of every airport, so you’ll need to do a little research before just buying a book the next time you fly. Luckily, the company does have an online map that shows every airport it operates out of and which stores are there.

There is one real catch to remember: You must keep the original receipt of the book if you want to return it and get your money back. If you're the forgetful type, just follow PureWow’s advice and use the receipt as a bookmark and you’ll be golden.

For frequent flyers who plan ahead, this program can ensure that your inflight entertainment will never break the bank.

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Musée du Louvre, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
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How a Notorious Art Heist Led to the Discovery of 6 Fake Mona Lisas
Musée du Louvre, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Musée du Louvre, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Human civilization has changed a lot over the past five millennia—but our instinct toward fakery, fraud, and flimflam seems to have remained relatively stable. In their new book Hoax: A History of Deception (Black Dog & Leventhal), Ian Tattersall and Peter Névraumont sift through 5000 years of our efforts to con others with scams and shakedowns of every description, from selling nonexistent real estate to transatlantic time travel. This excerpt reveals a convoluted art heist that netted not one, but six, of Leonardo da Vinci's most famous portrait(s).

Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is, by a wide margin, the world’s best-known Renaissance painting. The pride of Paris’s Louvre museum, it is hard nowadays for a visitor to get a good look at. Not only do heavy stanchions and a substantial velvet rope keep art lovers at bay, but a jostling horde of phone-pointing tourists typically accomplishes the same thing even more effectively. While you can expect to scrutinize Leonardo’s nearby Virgin and Child with Saint Anne up close and in reasonable tranquility, you are lucky to catch more than a glimpse of the Mona Lisa over the heads of the heaving crowd. And that’s just getting to admire the painting: With elaborate electronic protection and constantly circulating guards, stealing the iconic piece is pretty much unthinkable.

At a time when the standards of security were considerably more lax, around noon on Tuesday, August 22, 1911, horrified museum staff reported that the Mona Lisa was missing from her place on the gallery wall. The Louvre was immediately closed down and minutely searched (the picture’s empty frame was found on a staircase), and the ports and eastern land borders of France were closed until all departing traffic could be examined. To no avail. After a frantic investigation that temporarily implicated both the poet Guillaume Apollinaire and the then-aspiring young artist Pablo Picasso, all that was left was wild rumor: The smiling lady was in Russia, in the Bronx, even in the home of the banker J.P. Morgan.

Two years later the painting was recovered after a Florentine art dealer contacted the Louvre saying that it had been offered to him by the thief. The latter turned out to have been Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian artist who had worked at the Louvre on a program to protect many of the museum’s masterworks under glass.

Vincent Peruggia, Mona Lisa thief
Vincent Peruggia
Courtesy of Chronicle Books/Alamy

Peruggia reportedly told police that, early on the Monday morning before the theft was discovered—a day on which the museum was closed to the public—he had entered the Louvre dressed as a workman. Once inside, he had headed for the Mona Lisa, taken her off the wall and out of her frame, wrapped her up in his workman’s smock, and carried her out under his arm. Another version has Peruggia hiding in a museum closet overnight, but in any event the heist itself was clearly a pretty simple and straightforward affair.

Peruggia’s motivations appear to have been a little more confused. The story he told the police was that he had wanted to return the Mona Lisa to Italy, his and its country of origin, in the belief that the painting had been plundered by Napoleon—whose armies had indeed committed many similar trespasses in the many countries they invaded.

But even if he believed his story, Peruggia had his history entirely wrong. For it had been Leonardo himself who had brought the unfinished painting to France, when he became court painter to King François I in 1503. After Leonardo died in a Loire Valley château in 1519, the Mona Lisa was legitimately purchased for the royal collections.

So it didn’t seem so far-fetched when, in a 1932 Saturday Evening Post article, the journalist Karl Decker gave a significantly different account of the affair. According to Decker, an Argentinian con man calling himself Eduardo, Marqués de Valfierno, had told him that it was he who had masterminded Peruggia’s theft of the Mona Lisa. And that he had sold the painting six times!

Valfierno’s plan had been a pretty elaborate one, and it had involved employing the services of a skilled forger who could exactly replicate any stolen painting—in the Mona Lisa’s case, right down to the many layers of surface glaze its creator had used. By Decker’s account, Valfierno not only sold such fakes on multiple occasions, but used them to increase the confidence of potential buyers, ahead of the heist, that they would be getting the real thing after the theft.

The fraudster would take a victim to a public art gallery and invite him to make a surreptitious mark on the back of a painting that he had scheduled to be stolen. Later Valfierno would present him with the marked canvas, which had allegedly been stolen and replaced with a copy.

This trick was actually accomplished by secretly placing the copy behind the real painting, and removing it after the buyer had applied his mark. According to Valfierno, this was an amazingly effective sales ploy: So effective, indeed, that by his account he managed to pre-sell the scheduled-to-be-stolen Mona Lisa to six different United States buyers, all of whom actually received copies.

Mona Lisa returned to the Uffizi Gallery in 1913
Museum officials present the (real) Mona Lisa after its return to Florence, Italy's Uffizi Gallery in 1913.
The Telegraph, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Those copies had been smuggled into America prior to the heist at the Louvre, when nobody was on the lookout for them, and the well-publicized theft itself served to validate their apparent authenticity when they were delivered to the marks in return for hefty sums in cash.

According to Valfierno, the major problem in all this turned out to be Peruggia, who stole the stolen Mona Lisa from him and took it back to Italy. Still, when he was caught trying to dispose of the painting there, Peruggia could not implicate Valfierno without compromising his own story of being a patriotic thief, so the true scheme remained secret. Similarly, when the original Mona Lisa was returned to the Louvre, Valfierno’s buyers could assume that it was a copy—and in any case, they would hardly have been in a position to complain.

Decker’s story of Valfierno’s extraordinary machinations caused a sensation, and it rapidly became accepted as the truth behind the Mona Lisa’s disappearance. Perhaps this is hardly surprising because, after all, Peruggia’s rather prosaic account somehow seems a little too mundane for such an icon of Renaissance artistic achievement. The more flamboyant Valfierno version was widely believed, and is still repeated over and over again, including in two recent books.

Yet there are numerous problems with Decker’s Saturday Evening Post account, including the fact that nobody has ever been able to show for certain that Valfierno actually existed (though you can Google a picture of him). Only Peruggia’s role in the disappearance of the Mona Lisa seems to be reasonably clear-cut. Still, although it remains up in the air whether Valfierno faked his account, or whether Decker fabricated both him and his report, the Mona Lisa that hangs in the Louvre today is probably the original.

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